Showing posts from November, 2006


The illustrator Rockwell Kent (1882 - 1971) loved humanity with great passion. Unfortunately, he was an utter jerk when it came to loving individual human beings.

Kent was famous for his illustrations for Moby Dick, Candide, Shakespeare and Chaucer. He was also the author of several acclaimed books, an explorer, an architect, a dairy farmer, a carpenter, a fisherman, a sailor and an outspoken advocate of socialism who was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union for his work to achieve peace and brotherhood.

Kent had many wild adventures around the world. He hiked through jungles and over mountains. He explored islands and traveled on freighter ships. Once he attempted to sail around Cape Horn (at the southern tip of South America) in a ramshackle life boat that he bought for a few dollars. Wrote one commentator:

This region, boasting probably the world's worst climate, is buffeted incessantly by winds, swiftly alternating with rain, hail and snow. It is the legendary grave…

We had a great time at the landscape sketching workshop last week in Eaton Canyon. Here are some sketches from that and previous trips to the canyon.


Here are the 5 things I love most about the work of the great Ronald Searle (1920 - ).

1.) He is absolutely fearless with ink: the bite and splatter of his drawing remind you how people used to draw before software was invented.

Searle makes a serious commitment with ink, one that requires not only skill but courage. His drawings have the potential to go horribly awry if Searle ends up an inch to the left or right of his goal.

2.) Searle is able to step back from familar shapes and reinvent them: It is very hard to unlearn our basic assumptions about anatomy. Most artists who try end up merely exagggerating. But look at how Searle reinvents the human form. Think it's easy? Try it yourself. Or ask Picasso.

3.) Searle draws with great visual intelligence. You can tell from his artistic solutions that there is a radiant mind at work here.

4.) Even as an old man, Searle's work is playful and humorous (with all the subversiveness that implies).

5.) Finally, I like the path Searle followe…
This bird flew down and all but posed for me while I was landscape sketching out in Hawaii. I like this one better than the landscape I had been working on.


[No pictures today-- I am writing from Beijing, China, far away from my art collection, my scanner and my sweetheart (hi, Nell!). But I'll be home in a few days, when I can update my blog with fewer words and lots of good pictures.]

My feeble attempts to analyze pictures using words reminds me of Flaubert's lament: Human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when all the time we are longing to move the stars to pity. Don't get me wrong-- I'm a big fan of words. They have a tough job: to tame a wild, omnidimensional universe of feelings, thoughts and sensory impressions into a straight line with punctuation and spelling. All I'm saying is that pictures manage to take me a few inches closer to Flaubert's stars than words do.

Beethoven said, "music is a higher form of revelation than philosophy," and listening to Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, we surely believe him. Music is able to achieve that exalted …


A few days ago I posted a segment on Stanley Meltzoff's paintings of ancient Greece. I always wanted to meet the artist behind those glorious paintings, but now I never will. As I was posting my blog, Mr. Meltzoff was lying ill in a hospital. Today he passed away.

Diver's farewell to Blue Marlin by Stanley Meltzoff

Meltzoff was a gifted author, teacher and artist who painted images from science for Scientific American, historical illustrations for National Geographic and Life, and science fiction covers for a host of publishers.

Like thousands of others, I was enriched by his beautiful work. But I was most inspired by his astonishing intellectual curiosity and his deep artistic purpose. Meltzoff wrote about surviving in the years when the bottom dropped out of the illustration market:
My wife was ill, my children needed college money and I was almost 60 years old. I stood on the corner of 56th and Lexington Avenue in the rain with a soggy portfolio in my hands and improvised a sad…


In 1963, Life Magazine commissioned artist Stanley Meltzoff to illustrate an article about ancient Greece. The result was a set of glowing masterpieces that brought ancient Greece vividly to life.

In addition to the beauty of the images, Meltzoff labored long and hard to make his paintings historically accurate. A meticulous craftsman, he even distinguished the uniforms of the Persians from the uniforms of the Scythians and the Medes.

His illustrations conveyed everything from the pathos of an a individual dying in the streets from the plague... the grand sweep of the world's largest army storming across the Hellespont to invade Greece.

These are works of enduring value. They appeared for one brief moment in a 25 cent weekly magazine, then disappeared as Life moved on to a different topic the following week. They aren't displayed in a museum or gallery for the public to admire.

And yet, having appeared once, they are not gone. I can personally attest that these dramatic image…


Art sits back, licking its chops and waiting for the next fool who believes art can be explained rationally.

I've never been that kind of fool. As far as I'm concerned, the quality of art can't be determined by the accuracy of an image or the chemical composition of the pigment. The poet W. H. Auden identified a far more reliable test:

In times of joy, all of us wish we possessed a tail we could wag.All of this goes to say that my current diversion into the darkest depths of abstract art is not an attempt to find objective criteria for judging abstract art.

However, my personal view is that abstract art and representational illustration-- despite their obvious differences-- both deal at their core with the creation of form, and can both be judged by what
Peter Behrens called "the fundamental principles of all form creating work." These principles enable us to place all visual art on the same continuum. They give us a standard by which even abstract art can be measur…